Democracies feature checks and balances on power, but government branches (in theory at least) are supposed to work in concert to run the country and support the citizenry. This cooperation seems to have broken down in Pakistan, where recently the judiciary and executive clashed over the status of corruption charges against President Asif Ali Zardari.
Prime Minister Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf was asked in late August by Pakistan’s Supreme Court to authorize the continuation of corruption cases against Zardari. Ashraf’s predecessor as PM, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, was also instructed by the Supreme Court to restart the cases and refused; Gilani was deposed in June, and Ashraf faced the same prospect.
The dispute threatened to disrupt the fragile nature of Pakistan’s rule of law. Some saw the Court’s pressure on Ashraf as an attempt to deliberately undermine the ruling, legitimately elected Pakistan People’s Party. Others believe the Court acted within its constitutional mandate to hold leaders accountable for committing crimes.
Whatever the motives, the stalemate led to an air of general frustration with the government’s infighting and that it took attention away from areas of real need. Mehreen Zarha Malik, editor of an English-language Pakistani newspaper, puts things in perspective:
“The court thinks that if it can make the most powerful man, the president of the country, bend to law, Pakistan will establish itself as a country where rule of law prevails. But this top-to-bottom approach is weakening rule of law, because there are so many other issues, like energy crisis, militancy, etc., in Pakistan that need to be addressed which affect common people, and they are being ignored, leading to public disillusionment.”
On Sept. 18 Ashraf relented, agreeing to restart legal processes for corruption charges against President Zardari. But it will be a slow and laborious process, with chances of Zardari actually being prosecuted very slim.
Yet the fact that–despite frayed tempers and mudslinging from both sides–the rule of law did hold is encouraging. The government is supposed to serve the people, not become consumed by infighting and political posturing. All sides of this confrontation would do well to keep this in mind, or the people will remind them by voting for someone else in the next elections…which in Pakistan are scheduled for next March.